Hey there, thanks for stopping by. I found out that there are these things good bloggers create called “goals”. They kind of scared me a lot but I ended up making a few, one of which was to have a guest blogger each month, because there are too many wise people you need to hear from before you hear from me. So naturally I started with one of my wisest and dearest of friends, Katie Johnson.
Katie and I met as scared little freshmen entering college together. She is a beautiful soul from Knoxville, TN who loves psychology, tea, and the people around her better than anyone I know. There are few people I am more honored to introduce you to. I pray her words bless you richly as her friendship has so richly blessed me.
I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist. My life may not have seemed completely in order from the outside- perfect handwriting, a pristine workspace, a flawless wardrobe, straight A’s – but my perfectionism ran deeper than what I wore or what I got on a report card. Early on, I developed an addiction to performance. My self-worth came from the things I did well and a deep sense of worthlessness from the things I did not. With my significance hanging in the balance of performance, I became a slave to “doing the right thing” and a “just try harder” mentality. Ultimately, my deeply rooted performance addiction became entangled in my identity.
Maybe you aren’t a slave to perfectionism. But we’re all slaves to something– control, comfort, approval, achievement, a relationship, a perfect body, an idea, a desire, a dream. Often the things that keep us in bondage are good things that have been distorted into something destructive to our bodies, our souls, or our spirits. Whatever the case, we are all in a sense, slaves to our past.
This becomes painfully clear around New Years, a time for a fresh start and a “new you.” It is not long before we discover how difficult it is to change our behaviors and ourselves. The truth is no one gets a fresh start on January 1st or any other day of the year. What we do, what we think, and who we are- these are all products of a lifetime of work. We have spent years behaving in certain ways, forming habits, and establishing thought patterns. And not only this, we find a natural, human resistance in ourselves as well. The apostle Paul puts words to our condition in Romans 7: We do what we don’t want to do and we don’t do what we want to do. The person we find ourselves to be at the start of a new year is not really all that new.
For me, writing up my resolutions for the New Year was my chance to finally be perfect. I could start over with a clean slate and one by one overcome my imperfections- with food, with relationships, with my studies, with my faith. I could finally be all things to all people. I could finally get right with God.
But, every year, no matter how much I did or how hard I tried, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was dirty, defective, and never enough. In an attempt to flee from those feelings and beliefs, I tried harder and harder than before. In the end, all I became was overinvolved, overcommitted, and utterly exhausted.
After years of this, I began to feel more and more defeated as the demands on my time and energy became more stressful. In the end, this doing more, being more lifestyle could not be sustained. I was forced to take a leave of absence from college halfway through my second year to recover from medically diagnosed “physical, mental, and emotional depletion.” At the time, this was the ultimate failure. Two years later and a soon to be a college graduate, I see that this “great failure” was what freed me from my never-ending quest to be perfect. I stopped trying to do the all the right things, to perform in a certain way, to attempt perfection. I learned that it is not what I do, but who I am that ultimately matters.
I’ve been there. You try and try and nothing changes, you remain trapped in old habits and patterns of living. No matter what you do, you never get to where you’re going or achieve the goals you set. You never become that person you want to be or live the life you’ve imaged or find the person you long for. You are exhausted. You are depleted. You are done. If this is you, let your ears hear this truth: stop trying and start abiding.
This is not a call to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get your life together, to stop doing this and start doing that, to try this new weight loss plan or read through the bible in a year. This is not even a call to try harder to be the person you’ve always wanted to be. This is a call to lay down your lives and let the one who made you help you take it back up again. In losing your life, you gain it. Sometimes, laying down your life means laying down your efforts to be better and try harder- especially if the trying is what’s killing you.
Weary soul, you can rest. It’s okay. Stop trying. Stop striving. Stop trying to do the “right thing.” Stop scanning your Bible for more rules to follow. Stop punishing yourself for your failures. Stop resolving to do more and try harder. Stop with the mental checklists and to-do lists of things that must be done before you can truly rest. Stop grasping at that tempting mirage of perfection, which always lies just beyond your reach. Rest.
By no means am I saying to slack off from our work, to shrink from responsibility, to settle for mediocre friendships and relationships, or walk through our lives half-heartedly. As image bearers of God in Christ our work should be done with excellence, our relationships should reflect deep love and care, and our lives should be lived to fullest human capacity. As children of God, we should walk through all of our days wide-awake and fully alive. But this sort of life does not come through simply trying harder.
Abundant life is the natural condition of an individual characterized by a trusting and conversational relationship with the living God.
Only in Him do people live and move and have their being. Only by abiding, not by trying harder, does a branch receive abundant life from the vine that nurtures and sustains it. Abide.
If you are weary, come to Jesus and find rest for your souls. This is controversial. Resting in a restless world is provocative at best and offensive at worst. But Christ came to afflict the comfortable-those who believed they had it all together- and comfort the afflicted-those who understood the weight of their imperfections. If you, dear Christian, feel afflicted- by the world, by people around you, by your own inner demons- Christ has come to be a comfort to you. If you are tired of trying your hardest but getting nowhere, come to Him and rest. This is not the way our world operates so if this seems unsettling, remember that Christ does not give as the world gives. His yoke is easy to bear and the burden he gives is light.
If and when all of those promises you make to yourself and the resolutions you stand by so confidently at the beginning of January, go to pieces by February or March, remember these words: The answer is not trying harder but abiding more deeply in Christ.
Abide in the vine and rest. In Christ, you have all you need for life and godliness. There is nothing you lack when connected to Him.
Isaiah 15:30: “For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
Matthew 11: 28-30: “Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear and the burden I give you is light.”
John 15:4-5: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
Galatians 5:17: “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”
2 Peter 1:3: “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.”